Issue 51 - Article 14

Integrating conflict mitigation into the INEE Minimum Standards for Education

September 27, 2011
Kerstin Tebbe, INEE

The Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) is a global, open network working to ensure people’s right to a quality education and a safe learning environment in emergencies and recovery situations. The INEE Minimum Standards, released in 2004, constitute the first global tool to define a minimum level of quality for humanitarian assistance in the education sector and complement the Sphere Project’s Minimum Standards in Disaster Response. In 2009, INEE began updating the Minimum Standards to reflect developments in the field of education in emergencies, incorporate feedback received over the previous five years of implementation and mainstream 11 cross-cutting issues. Between mid-2009 and early 2010, over 1,000 people from more than 100 countries contributed to the update process. The new Minimum Standards handbook was launched in June 2010, and is currently being rolled out worldwide through launch events, translations and training. INEE, INEE Minimum Standards for Education: Preparedness, Response, Recovery, 2010.

Conflict mitigation and the Minimum Standards

Conflict mitigation is one of the 11 cross-cutting themes mainstreamed in the updated Minimum Standards. The Standards define conflict mitigation as:

actions and processes that 1) are sensitive to conflict and do not increase tensions or sources of violence; and 2) aim to address causes of conflict and change the way that those involved act and perceive the issues. Humanitarian, recovery and development activities are reviewed for their effect on the conflict context in which they take place and their contribution to longer-term peace and stability. Conflict mitigation approaches can be used for conflict prevention and interventions in conflict and post-conflict situations.

The goal of mainstreaming conflict mitigation into the Minimum Standards was two-fold, focused on conflict sensitivity and ‘do no harm’ and conflict transformation to build sustainable peace. ‘Do no harm’ requires that actors implementing interventions assess and understand the divisions and tensions between people and the capacities for violent conflict within the society in which they work. See Mary Anderson, Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace – Or War (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999).  Conflict sensitivity obliges humanitarian actors to understand the conflict context in which they operate; understand the interaction between their operations and the conflict context; and act upon this understanding in order to avoid negative impacts and maximise positive ones.

Working towards conflict transformation and sustainable peace involves addressing the structural causes of violent conflict (i.e. pervasive factors that have become entrenched in the policies, structures and fabric of a society) as well as the proximate causes (i.e. factors that contribute to a climate conducive to violent conflict). Addressing the causes of conflict means helping local people to disengage from the conflict and establish alternative systems for dealing with the problems that underlie it.

Ensuring conflict sensitivity and contributing to conflict transformation in crisis and post-crisis education necessitate responses based on thorough conflict analysis, an understanding of the conflict context and an assessment of how responses may interact with that context. Education responses in crisis and post-crisis situations are often based on a thorough analysis of the destructive impacts of the crisis on education and resultant needs; analysing the links between education and the context in which it takes place is, however, a new focus in the education in emergencies community. As a result, designing the approach to integrating conflict mitigation in the Minimum Standards handbook required drawing on a growing, though still very thin, body of evidence demonstrating education’s potential role in either exacerbating or mitigating conflict.

Recent activity and research has increasingly focused attention on the role of education in conflict, from conflict prevention to longer-term peace-building. Such activities and research reflect broader, longer-term trends in the field of education in emergencies over the last ten to 15 years. These trends represent a process of increasing self-reflection, from understanding the devastation that conflict has on education; to advocating for incorporating education into humanitarian response and rebuilding education post-crisis; to realising that education is not simply a neutral technical activity, but can either exacerbate or mitigate conflict; to more extensive and collaborative action around knowledge generation, policy and planning. The INEE Working Group on Education and Fragility, established in early 2008, has served as a catalyst and hub for collaborative action and knowledge generation on this topic, through its own research and events and by linking with other actors’ initiatives. Incorporating conflict mitigation into the Minimum Standards handbook represents an internal effort by INEE to meld its hallmark tool with the new knowledge and practice being generated by the Working Group on Education and Fragility, and others.

Conflict analysis for the education sector

Extensive good practice for conflict mitigation in education was compiled during the update process. Recommendations touch on a range of issues including community participation and the use of community resources; non-discrimination and marginalisation; the role of government authorities; and the equitable distribution of programming, resources and benefits. However, the major change made to the INEE Minimum Standards as a result of the update process was the incorporation of conflict analysis as a critical component in planning and implementing education responses. The principle of placing context at the core of all interventions is a core tenet of humanitarian and development work. However, while assessment of the educational needs instigated by an emergency is accepted and promoted as an integral part of response (e.g. in post-conflict or post-disaster needs assessment), sector-specific conflict analysis is an expansion in thinking regarding the range of necessary assessments to be undertaken during or post-crisis.

As a result of efforts to strengthen conflict mitigation, revisions were made in the handbook to the ‘Analysis Standard 1: Initial Assessment’. Changes to the key indicators stated the need to broaden analysis from education needs assessments to include analysis of the context, specifically conflict dynamics. To support these revisions, a guidance note was added to explicitly underline the need for conflict analysis to ensure that education responses are appropriate, relevant and sensitive to the potential for conflict (as well as disaster). An outline of the questions that generally comprise conflict analyses – about the actors who are directly or indirectly engaged in conflict, or are affected by conflict or at risk of being affected; about the causes of conflict and the factors that contribute to grievances; about the interactions between the actors, including education actors, and causes of conflict – is included in the guidance note. In addition, the point was made that education specialists should utilise existing analyses or assessments of the context wherever possible; in any given context numerous agencies are often undertaking and updating conflict assessments, the findings of which can and should be used.

Additional points related to conflict analysis were included in other sections of the updated handbook, included regarding the transfer of resources, monitoring and using analysis as the basis for developing policy. A new guidance note under the ‘Analysis Standard 2: Response Strategy’ observes that:

emergency education responses involve the transfer of resources such as training, jobs, supplies and food into frequently resource-scarce environments. These resources often represent power and wealth. They can become an element of the conflict or exacerbate marginalisation or discrimination within communities. In a conflict situation, some people may attempt to control and use such resources to support their side, to weaken the other side or to gain personally. If this happens, education responses may cause harm. Efforts should be made to avoid this, based on an understanding of risk and conflict analysis.

A related point was incorporated in the guidance note on ‘Analysis Standard 3: Monitoring’ to expand the scope of monitoring to include not just changing educational needs but also how programmes are responding to the evolving context, including in terms of conflict mitigation.

Finally, the critical need for solid and adequate analysis of the context was addressed via the addition of a guidance note under ‘Education Policy and Coordination Standard 1: Policy Enactment and Formulation’. This states that all education policy and planning must be based on contextual analysis:

education laws and policies should reflect a thorough understanding of the social, economic, security, environmental and political dynamics in the emergency context. In this way, education planning and programming meet the needs and rights of learners and of wider society, and avoid aggravating social divisions or conflict … Education authorities and other education stakeholders should advocate for such analyses to be undertaken and included as part of regular education sector reviews and reform processes.


The inclusion of conflict analysis in the INEE Minimum Standards marks a shift in thinking within the education in emergencies community about what must be done to ensure quality responses in crisis and post-crisis environments. The move highlights that data on education needs must be supplemented by findings from analysis of the broader context, specifically conflict dynamics. Without such an understanding, plans and responses put in place to fulfil education needs might not meet the benchmark of ‘do no harm’. Meeting this criterion requires that linkages are made between post-conflict/disaster education needs assessments and broader contextual analyses including conflict analysis. While the field of education in emergencies has still to acquire the tools, methods and capacity to appropriately and adequately undertake this sort of analysis at the sector level, recognition of its importance is the first step towards systematic change in practice.

Kerstin Tebbe is the INEE Coordinator for Education and Fragility.

Further reading

  • K. D. Bush and L. Saltarelli (eds), The Two Faces of Education in Ethnic Conflict: Towards a Peace-building Education for Children (Florence: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, 2001).
  • CfBT Education Trust and Save the Children UK, The ‘Education that Protects’ Project: The ‘Education and Fragility Barometer’: An Early Warning Tool To Aid Conflict Prevention, 2008,
  • K. Dupuy, Education for Peace: Building Peace and Transforming Armed Conflict Through Education Systems, Save the Children Norway, 2008.
  • USAID, ‘Education and Fragility: An Assessment Tool’, 2006,
  • J. Wedge, Where Peace Begins: Education’s Role in Conflict Prevention and Peace Building, International Save the Children Alliance, 2008.


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